Arts The favourite sounds of Prague
Prague is the city of hundred spires and countless historic sights, but what does it look like when you close your eyes? A new project called Favourite Sounds of Prague attempts to draw attention to the “soundscape” of the Czech capital, exploring how local people perceive the sounds that surround them. One of the fruits of the project will be an archive of sounds, something like an acoustic portrait of the city. The man behind the idea is British artist Peter Cusack, who has carried out similar projects in several cities across the world. The Czech project is supported by a German state fund and is coordinated by Miloš Vojtěchovský.
“The original project Your Favourite London Sounds was part of a radio programme Peter Cusack was doing for Resonance.fm, an art radio in London. People could call him describing was their favourite sound in their neighbourhood by words or by recorded sound. This simple idea seemed to be so challenging for people that the programme gradually developed its own website and Peter Cusack also released a CD with 70 minutes of sound he and other people collected. Since then he carried out several other projects in Chicago, Montreal and Beijing. So why not try Prague? We don’t have an independent radio in Prague, so we did all the work on our own.”
So how does it work, then?
“First we spread out questionnaires among different people, and we still continue to do so, in order to get some kind of indication about the respondents’ background. Then we organize workshops where people learn about the project and find out in what way they can contribute or participate. We also organize so-called “sound-walks”. Someone guides a walk through the town, makes people listen to different sounds and tells them what he thinks of different places from the ‘sonic point of view’.”
So basically anyone can take part in the project?
“Yes, of course. We have already established a website and anyone can log in, fill in the questionnaire and describe and upload the sounds, if he or she has the abilities and devices to record them.”
Are there any unique sounds in Prague that cannot be heard in other European cities? Local people may not notice them anymore, but those who visit the city for the first time may actually find some of the sounds quite unusual.
“Peter Cusack was definitely surprised by the air-raid sirens which are going on every month. This is quite unusual for someone coming from England and actually most of European towns. He was very interested and impressed by the idea than you can approach the railway so easily, so he experienced a lot of train sounds. He found out that trains are more or less everywhere in Prague. That is probably one of the specific traces of Prague soundscape.
“He also noticed that there are many natural sounds in Prague which you wouldn’t guess if you didn’t pay attention to it. Actually there are more sounds of nature than in London. It seems that parks in Prague are wilder than parks in London, so the variety of different species is probably higher.”
What do people mention as their most favourite sounds?
“It is different for different groups of population. But generally, with the exception of children, who prefer louder sounds, people have a preference for quiet sounds, natural sounds or intimate sounds. They prefer to live in quiet environment where they can distinguish the variety of sounds.
“It seems that some sounds are disappearing together with the activities where the sound originated from. For example, in the last years, freight trains are disappearing from Prague. So this squeaking of the wagons which were being moved during the night and which many people probably remember from lying sleepless in the night. They are more or less gone as these areas disappear from Prague. Old people still remember the sound of street markets most of which have also disappeared from Prague.”
“I prefer the outskirts of Prague than the centre. Thanks to the project I visited locations where I haven’t been for several years. Just now I am completely absorbed in walking in Prosek, Ďáblice, Trója or Lysolaje, areas which 50 years ago were villages rather than a part of Prague. They are sometimes very fascinating. I also like underground water systems: the old sewage factory in Bubny for example is an amazing experience, as well as some of the churches. I think it’s good to go and find out for yourself.”
You can find more about the project on
The episode featured today was first broadcast on August 29, 2008.